How to Harvest Salad Mix and Greens
Greens are here! We welcomed the first bounty of greens two weeks ago and have not looked back since. This year I came in with a game plan when it came to planting our salad mix, arugula, and other greens. We watched last season with naive eyes how quickly the flea beetles could take a perfectly beautiful leave and turn it into something resembling lace. Flea beetles are the downfall to growing lettuce and other greens outside of a high tunnel or greenhouse. If you want perfect leaves, then you will probably have to consider using a low tunnel or row cover! It has made all of the difference this year in keeping our salad mix look pristine and without a bug hole in sight.
Read on for my other tips in harvesting salad greens that look and taste like you bought them at the store!
Get outside as soon as the sun is coming up! I am not kidding. You ideally want to harvest your greens before the sun can really touch them. For me, this means I have to harvest before 9AM. While the sun does come out, it is not at its highest point in the sky yet, and before 9AM, it’s typically still cool out depending on the weather. Lettuce and greens are still moist and cool after spending the night without any heat on them. Once the sun hits, they will begin to dry out and become bitter. Lettuce always needs to be harvested either in the morning or on a cool, overcast day. The younger the leaves, the less bitter, and so forth.
Prep your equipment. You will need some supplies for harvesting, washing, and packing your greens.
Before harvesting, prep your wash station:
A hose or connection to water
A bucket or large bowl filled with cold water (you can also add some distilled white vinegar for extra cleaning)
A Salad Spinner
Bags or containers to store your greens (we still use plastic bags for our greens, as I have found nothing that keeps them fresh as long)
Also gather harvest equipment:
A basket, bin, or bucket for collecting your greens
A pair of sharp scissors, knife, or shears
Look for your ideal greens. Uncover those beds and get to searching for greens that are either in their baby stage or further along, depending on what you prefer. For salad mix, baby greens should be cut when they are about 4 inches tall and can be cut at any length after that. You will know when the greens have gone too far if they have bolted, or sent a tall flower from the center of the plant. The plant will put all of its energy into flowering and sending off seed (this happens when it gets too hot outside) and the leaves will become better. For certain greens, like tatsoi, this flower can actually be quite delicious on your salad so no loss there! For lettuce, it’s usually best to just cut the plant off and let it regrow.
Get to cutting! With a sharp pair of scissors, shears, or a knife neatly cut off a bunch of greens, leaving about an inch or so of plant left growing out of the ground. Greens are resilient and will grow back within a week or two after being cut. You should see how fast my butter lettuce grows back! I simply take a large bunch of leaves in my free hand and cut with the other. Place the greens in a collection basket or bucket and continue on. Again, like I said above, just make sure that you are harvesting at an ideal time. You have some time in between harvesting and washing before the greens start to wilt if you get out there soon enough and/or on a cloudy, cool day.
Wash and pack. This can be a difficult aspect, especially if you are a small farm and growing for production. Washing takes up a lot of energy and resources. Lettuce and greens take up the most water and waste the most as well. Here are some supplies you will need:
Large metal tub or bucket (plastic is fine, too)
Clean cold water at your disposal
Salad Spinner (if you are doing lots of harvesting, check out this 5 gallon option. I do not have this, but would love it!)
Plastic Bags (I get mine from U-line)
After your greens are harvested, as quickly as possible you should move to the wash station. I can usually harvest about 5 pounds worth before wanting to head back to the wash station. I have seen greens washed many ways and even people that sell greens unwashed. Our customers come back again and again for our greens because they last longer - why? Because we wash them!
I have tried multiple ways to wash greens including spraying them with a hose and cold water. This does work to get any large clumps of dirt and debris off. The exception is, you have to dunk them. The best way to preserve the lettuce after harvest is to immerse them in cold water and a light vinegar solution to kill any possible bacteria from the soil/fertilizers. Then you want to make them as dry as possible. Kind of counterintuitive, right? But it works!
After dunking the greens, place them in the salad spinner and spin away all of the water. Then place the greens in a plastic bag. You do not have to seal it, but we sell them that way at market. Your fresh greens will keep for over a week most likely and stay crisp. If the greens are coated in water, they tend to wilt and become slimy.
I hope that you enjoying your greens this year! I have been eating salad every day since we began harvesting, and I am loving it. It has been really fun to add other raw seasonal veggies on each week as well like scallions, kohlrabi, garlic scapes, radishes, turnips, and beets. Since trying out a more raw vegan diet last year, it changed much of my perspective on the ways that I use vegetables and opened up my palette more. While I do eat animal products now, it’s turned into much less and often choosing a vegetable option instead. I would highly suggest that change to anyone; it truly changes your health in magnitudes!